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The Insider

Start the Music
Several weeks ago, City Councilman Orlando Sanchez helped bully a local arts organization out of sponsoring a jazz concert by the band Crisol, which includes four Cuban musicians [The Insider, "Stop the Music," May 22]. As it turns out, the main effect of the councilman's intervention has been to politicize the Crisol performance as a rallying point for activists opposing U.S. policy toward Cuba.

After the Da Camera Society dropped its sponsorship of the event, society executive director Mary Lou Aleskie turned for help to Tom Kleven, a TSU law professor and member of the local chapter of the Coalition on Cuba, which opposes the U.S. economic embargo of the Castro-ruled island. In turn, Kleven contacted the SHAPE Community Center and enlisted SHAPE director DeLoyd Parker's assistance. The concert is now scheduled as a June 19 benefit for SHAPE at the Cullen Auditorium in the Wortham Center.

Sanchez and other local Cuban-Americans claimed that performances by musicians from Cuba offend the sensibilities of the Cuban expatriate community in Houston. Kleven counters that the attempt to censor the band offends the sensibilities of Houston arts lovers and activists supporting an open policy toward Cuba.

"My personal view is that the United States should normalize relations with Cuba," says Kleven, who maintains the Helms-Burton act restricting economic contact with the island is "possibly illegal under international law." In any event, he adds, the embargo "is an immoral and offensive way to treat people from another country." Kleven goes on to contend that poor Cubans get better free health care and education than their counterparts in poverty stateside.

In addition to record company advertisements promoting Crisol's new CD Habana, activists are distributing thousands of fliers in the Houston area publicizing the concert. Tickets can be obtained through Ticketmaster. "I've been getting calls at my office for tickets," says Kleven, "so the word is spreading."

Given the nature of the event, the sidewalk scene outside of the Wortham may be as hot as the music inside. But Kleven won't be there to enjoy the show. He's leaving this week on his first-ever trip to Cuba.

Going for It
With all the falling political dominoes in state politics set in motion by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock's announcement that he won't seek re-election, a number of Houstonians are re-evaluating their political prospects. Two of them, conservative Republican David Dewhurst and moderate Democrat Paul Hobby, are weighing whether to get into the 1998 race for lieutenant governor against high-profile opponents who already hold statewide positions.

Hobby, the son of former lieutenant governor Bill Hobby, phoned state Senator John Whitmire last week after Bullock's announcement to sound him out about supporting a Hobby bid for Bullock's soon-to-be-vacated position. Paul was a tad late. State Comptroller John Sharp had already been on the line with Whitmire and collected his commitment of support for Sharp's lieutenant governor candidacy. When Hobby reiterated that he was interested in running for lieutenant governor, Whitmire says he told him, "It's my understanding the Sharp people and others are going to urge you to run for state comptroller, and I think that would make a strong team."

According to Whitmire, a disappointed Hobby replied, "Well, I'm really more interested in lieutenant governor. It's a job I understand and one I love." Whitmire said that Hobby's name and resources might make him competitive with Sharp, "but it would be a shame if Democrats are fighting each other at that level." The conversation ended, says Whitmire, with Hobby professing uncertainty about what he might do.

Hobby, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Houston who worked as a top aide to Bullock during the recently completed legislative session, was not available for comment. But consultant Nancy Sims, a friend of Hobby's, says he seems "fairly determined" to run for lieutenant governor, and indeed, Hobby filed papers in Austin Monday setting up a campaign finance committee for the office.

Unlike Hobby, Sharp has a statewide political machine he built in his six years as comptroller, including patronage doled out to Sharp supporters by state lottery operator Gtech. Hobby, by contrast, has his family name, ample financial resources and is highly telegenic.

Over on the Republican side, Dewhurst, the chairman of Falcon Seaboard Resources, is mulling over a possible candidacy. The only hitch is that the road would lead through a good friend, Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry, who's a cinch to be in the GOP primary to succeed Bullock.

Perry visited Dewhurst last week to inquire about his intentions. "I told him I was considering the race," says Dewhurst, "and it had nothing to do with him, it had to do with my wanting to give back to the state of Texas a lot of the things I've been blessed with."  

Dewhurst contributed to Dr. Steven Hotze's campaign PACs in 1996 and describes himself as a "dyed-in-the-wool conservative." Presumably, that leaves the 100 percent-cotton conservative crowd to Perry.

His Motives Are Pure, of Course
Whitmire, meanwhile, ruled himself out of taking a run at any of the statewide offices that will be cleared of incumbents in the upcoming round of musical chairs in Austin. But he's still talking as if he might jump into the Houston mayor's race, since he's finding none of the announced contenders suitable.

"I want to see a candidate in the race who's going to work for Houston, and not someone who's looking for a job title or they're term limited and that's something they're having to do out of political necessity," says the Democratic senator. "And I'm looking for somebody that doesn't have to move into the city to run."

Well, that seems to eliminate just about everyone running, except perhaps for George Greanias. But for some reason we don't think Greanias is Whitmire's dream candidate, since his initials aren't J.W.

God Bless That New Ballpark
The future downtown home of the Astros won't be completed for several years, but 25 Hispanic cleaning women are counting their lucky Madonnas for the leverage the new ballpark gave them in a sexual harassment complaint brought on their behalf against Drayton McLane's Astrodome USA by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

The EEOC announced a settlement agreement with the Astrodome operator this week for an undisclosed amount. The settlement resulted from the women's complaints of harassment by a crew supervisor employed by Astrodome USA. Each woman will receive between $15,000 and $30,000, hardly a fortune, but sizable enough considering their near-minimum wage earnings as part of the Dome's janitorial crew.

Perhaps in recognition of the volatile political environment surrounding the downtown stadium proposal, top Astrodome USA officials, including president Mike Puryear, personally handled negotiations with the EEOC. The government lawyers were not shy about emphasizing the likely negative publicity that could result from a lengthy trial if the complaint were allowed to go to court.

Hispanic politicians and community leaders generally supported the stadium proposal, and the minority vote is credited with giving it a narrow victory in last November's countywide referendum. The last thing stadium proponents needed was a protracted legal fight pitting low-income Hispanic women against McLane's organization.

Houston EEOC director Harriet Ehrlich says that after the settlement was hammered out several weeks ago, the complainants threw a party and "lighted candles to the Virgin of Guadalupe." Maybe they should have burned a few for the Ballpark at Union Station as well.

Big Face on the Highway
"Judge for Yourself" proclaims the large billboard on I-10 just west of the Loop, which prominently features a smiling Robert Eckels and two similarly contented schoolchildren. Okay, is it an early campaign advertisement for the county judge's 1998 re-election bid?

No, says Northwest Academy head Dr. Glenn Holzman, who explains that the private school chose to put Eckels's mug in view of one of the busiest freeway interchanges in town because he's an alumnus (Class of '75) and thus a logical symbol for its recruitment program. Still, one political type who ogled the sign wonders whether it recruits more voters for Eckels than students for the school.

Texas Ethics Commission counsel Karen Lundquist says there's nothing in the state election code that would prohibit a corporation or nonprofit from using the likeness of an elected official in advertising, if its use isn't tied directly to a campaign effort.

Eckels, who claims to be the school's highest-profile grad, considers the endorsement his "gift" to the school, and he likes what he sees when he drives past the billboard.

"When they took the picture," he allows, "I thought I needed a shave. But it looks pretty good."

Eckels is indeed planning to stand for re-election next year. He's also on the board of the Houston Christian High School, which has not yet been established.

"We're going to have to raise money for that," he says, holding out the prospect of more billboards featuring his face in the future.

Wedding Bells
Who says life doesn't provide unexpected silver linings amid very dark clouds? Take, for example, state District Judge William "Bill" Bell, the Harris County jurist under fire from the state Judicial Conduct Commission for alleged improper contacts with lawyers. Bell's testimony during last month's commission hearing was brought into question when one of those lawyers, Holly Williamson, produced a tape of a conversation that seemed to contradict the account the judge gave under oath. The commission hearing adjourned at that point but is tentatively scheduled to resume June 17, when the tape will be entered into evidence and Williamson will offer more testimony.  

But at least Bell's attention is being distracted by more pleasant concerns. Recently the judge's friends and some political supporters received a surprise wedding invitation from Bell, announcing his marriage on June 28 out in Laredo. Just to be safe, do you think the bride should tape-record the wedding vows?

Call The Insider at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or reach him by e-mail at Insider@houston-press.com.


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